Niskayuna, Middleburgh school budgets pass
CAPITAL REGION Voters approved spending plans for the Niskayuna and Middleburgh central school districts Tuesday.
The two districts were the only ones in the Capital Region to require a revote on their 2013-14 budget proposals after voters rejected original proposals in last month’s vote.
Residents voted 3,689-1,844 in favor of Niskayuna’s revised budget, avoiding a contingency budget that would have required more than $5 million in cuts and draconian measures like a return to half-day kindergarten and the elimination of classes, AP electives, music, foreign languages, arts, clubs and sports.
“I want to thank everyone who took the time today to vote on the school budget for a second time,” District Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said in a statement late Tuesday. “We are grateful for the support of our community in this vote. We appreciate all of the feedback that has been provided throughout the budget development process. The community’s input along the way was instrumental in shaping the revised budget and will continue to guide the district in the future. It’s time to move forward.”
The newly adopted budget is set at $75.7 million and will increase the tax levy by 3.95 percent, less than the 4.66 percent tax cap imposed by the state. The original budget, which totalled $76.3 million, had called for a tax levy increase above the cap and would have required a supermajority of voters — more than 60 percent — to pass, but didn’t even win over a simple majority.
Of the 5,533 voters Tuesday, 66.7 percent supported the new budget.
Lynn Schnell, a grandmother who voted for the budget, said she believes residents have a responsibility to make sure the district’s children get the best education possible. Of course, the district needs to better plan for the long term, she acknowledged, but the alternative was simply not viable and would create an exodus of parents from the district.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to the children in the district to provide the best education possible,” she said.
To satisfy residents, the Board of Education found $636,000 in new cuts — for a total of $3.16 million in cuts planned for the upcoming school year — and identified $306,000 in new revenue. The revised budget increases spending over the current 2012-13 budget by 0.47 percent.
The following are some of the reductions that will occur with the new budget in place:
• The equivalent of 28.73 full-time positions will be cut, including some teaching, administration, bus driver training and administrative, instructional, clerical and student support positions
• More than $758,000 in benefits will be cut
• More than $400,000 in savings from teacher retirements will go toward the salaries of new hires
• Bus drivers and computer technicians will be outsourced
• $10,000 will be cut from the district’s Technology Replacement Plan
• High school late buses will be available two days a week instead of three
• $15,000 will be cut from athletic and club budgets
• More than $71,000 in employee benefits will be cut
• Freshmen sports will be eliminated
• $100,000 will be cut from the district’s energy management program
A steady stream of voters showed up to Niskayuna High School during the noon hour Tuesday to cast their ballots. Some who said they voted against the plan expressed their wish that the board had done more to cut the budget. Others, who said they voted for the budget, agreed the board could have found more places to cut, but said the contingency plan wasn’t a viable alternative.
“I voted yes, against my better judgment,” said district resident and parent Christina Stewart after voting.
The taxes are still too high, she said, charging mismanagement by the district when it comes to balancing the budget.
But she also acknowledged the Advanced Placement classes, sports and music programs are important to students, including her own children. They would be at risk if the district had to resort to the state-mandated contingency budget.
“They need to be more financially sound,” Stewart said. “If I have to be financially sound, I expect them to be.”
Resident Beth Jacobs voted against the budget, citing taxes that are still too high. More can be cut, she said, especially from administration.
“People like myself can’t afford to live in Niskayuna,” she said.
Elissa Fromowitz said she voted for the revised budget because of the programs that could be lost under the contingency budget. The mother of three children in elementary and middle school said it was extremely important to her to keep up the high quality of education in Niskayuna.
“I understand living on a fixed budget, but right now, at my place, I have little kids that need a good education,” she said.
Residents voted 592-414 in favor of Middleburgh’s revised school budget, putting in place a spending plan that is $88,000 smaller than the original one shot down during the first vote. The newly adopted plan sets the budget for the 2013-14 school year at $20,189,789, raising the tax levy 2.68 percent, compared to the original 3.92-percent hike the district had proposed.
Neither hike would have topped the state’s tax cap, and thus required only a simple majority to pass, but voters narrowly rejected the first proposal anyhow.
The revised budget will increase spending over the current year by 0.2 percent, or $39,308. It will close a projected budget gap of more than $1.6 million through the use of more than $1 million in fund balance, $200,000 in budget-to-budget savings, $15,000 from reassigning a mechanic as a bus driver and $408,000 in reductions.
Those cuts include:
• Field trips
• The equivalent of 3.8 full-time positions
• An independent internal auditor
• $16,750 in extracurricular activities
• $15,000 in athletics
• The BOCES curriculum coordination service
• $12,000 in energy contracts
• $7,000 in available funds for contract negotiations